Nobody wants to be in a situation where they have to hire a lawyer. People seeking legal help typically aren’t doing so for a happy reason. However, many of us will need to seek legal counsel at some point in our lives, be it for a divorce, to create a will, or perhaps even for something as serious as a criminal charge.
Legal fees can add up quickly, and rates will depend on where you live and your lawyer’s experience. Here’s a look at the types of fees you can expect to pay and how to go about financing these payments.
Types of legal fees
The most common type of fee from a lawyer will be an hourly rate, which can vary a great deal. According to Lawyers.com, the average rate for a lawyer in a smaller town will likely run between $100 and $200 per hour; whereas, in a larger city, rates typically run between $200 and $400.
Remember, cheaper isn’t necessarily better. A more expensive and more experienced lawyer may be able to spend fewer hours on your case. Make sure you have a consultation with your lawyer beforehand and ask for an estimate of how many hours they expect to spend on your case.
Flat fees are sometimes an option, particularly for something like a will.
Contingent fees are another way lawyers might charge a client. This means there is no charge upfront, but the lawyer will earn a percentage of your settlement.
Retainer fees are money put in a special account by the client. The lawyer deducts fees from this account as needed.
Some legal work requires the court to set or approve a fee ahead of time. This is called a statutory fee.
How do people pay for attorney fees?
Practicing attorney Jill Stanley, who also writes about celebrity legal news on her site proofwithjillstanley.com, offers nine ways you could consider paying your legal fees.
1) Negotiate a contingency fee
First, I suggest negotiating with the lawyer whom you want to represent you and inquire whether he/she would consider taking the case on a contingency fee basis”
“First, I suggest negotiating with the lawyer whom you want to represent you and inquire whether he/she would consider taking the case on a contingency fee basis,” advises Stanley.
She adds, “With a contingency fee structure, the client does not pay attorney’s fees out of pocket, but rather the fees are paid from any settlement or verdict the attorney secures on the client’s behalf or a percentage of a deal that is negotiated.”
2) Pro bono or high profile cases
Stanley says, “If the legal issue is one that would garner a lot of press, the lawyer might take the case for pro bono (which, translated, means for the public good, but we take it to mean for free) or for a dramatically reduced rate.
This is not always done solely out of the goodness of his/her own heart or for a compelling public interest (these may be factors he/she considers). Lawyers often do this because the exposure would benefit him/her in other ways both tangible (i.e., the lawyer could obtain more cases) and intangible (i.e., third-party credibility and branding benefits from the exposure).”
3) Online fundraising
In today’s digital world, Stanley says you might consider an online fundraising campaign (a.k.a. crowdsourcing), such as gofundme.com, to raise money to pay attorneys fees. Alternately, your lawyer might post a fundraising campaign for your case.
Stanley says, “Recently I have seen a well-known lawyer post a fundraising campaign on her own law firm website to help pay for a client’s legal fees for a specific matter.
This could be because the firm is particularly interested in the matter or because they truly want to help the client, but cannot shoulder the entire financial burden of handling the matter on a wholly pro bono basis.”
4) Payment plan
Stanley says some lawyers might consider a payment plan for the right case and the right client. “So, rather than paying a lump sum for legal services (which is often required in criminal matters), smaller payments could be made incrementally,” she explains.
5) Statutes that award fees
Sometimes, a win in court determines that your attorney’s fees will be paid by the opposing party. It depends on the type of case.
Stanley explains, “For example, in a Consumer Protection Act matter, the party found to be at fault can be ordered by the court to pay the prevailing party’s attorneys fees. If a lawyer feels the client has a very strong case and it is based on a statute that allows for attorney’s fee, then this is another option.”
6) Credit cards
Jim Hacking, who owns Hacking Law Practice, LLC in St. Louis, MO says most lawyers will accept credit cards for legal fees.
7) Upfront payment + payment plan
I once had a client from Iraq who wanted to bring his wife and sons to the U.S. The client agreed to pay 1/3 up front and $50 a month until it was paid off. He showed up every single month on the third of the month and paid his $50 legal fee.”
Hacking suggests this approach. He says, “I once had a client from Iraq who wanted to bring his wife and sons to the U.S. The client agreed to pay 1/3 up front and $50 a month until it was paid off. He showed up every single month on the third of the month and paid his $50 legal fee.”
But if you come in scatterbrained and unprepared without a plan, no one is going to want to give you a break.
8) Ask your family
Hacking suggests asking family members to help. It can be tricky asking for a loan or help from family, but if you’re in a legal bind, it may be a reasonable option if possible.
9) Get a personal loan
As with any large chunk of change, getting a personal loan is an option. Since this is an unsecured loan, you’ll need an above-average credit score. You can seek a personal loan from a bank, credit union, or online lender. Check out Super money’s personal loans review page to get started.
What’s the best option?
Stanley says she recommends the contingency option, though this isn’t available in all types of legal matters. “Clearly, there is no option for a contingency fee arrangement in a criminal matter or in some matters where the client is a defendant,” she explains.
Hackey recommends the payment upfront with a payment plan worked out over time.
Immigration attorney Elizabeth Ricci of the firm Rambana & Ricci, PLLC in Tallahassee, Fl recommends seeking the attorney best suited for your legal needs, being upfront about finances, and requesting help.
She says, “If the attorney can’t take the case pro bono (at no charge), she may be able to make recommendations that you can do on your own or refer you to a qualified attorney who is not as expensive or to a free service like Legal Services.”
Remember, not every lawyer is right for every client. And not every client is right for every lawyer. Hackey says, “Find a lawyer that you are comfortable with. You have the power, not the lawyer. If the lawyer isn’t flexible, maybe you want to think about finding another. Shop around until you find one that you like. Do your homework ahead of time and visit their website.”
A good place to start, which you can do right now, is seeing if you pre-qualify for a personal loan. If you do, at least you’ll know that’s an option if all other options fall through.